Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
#10: Imaginary Mongoose
[In which Snape and the shaman finally find a better hole.]
Lucius, however, was not the only one to incur the snake-man's wrath. The self-styled Dark Lord, a.k.a. The Psycho Poseur, might have started out meaning to toy with the professor for a day or two, like a cat allowing a mouse to run before scooping it back into the jaws of pain: but after seeing the retching, bleeding, be-tentacled products of the professor's warped ingenuity it seemed safe to assume that he was becoming seriously concerned about his ability to recapture the man at all, and was stepping up his efforts in that regard.
Lynsey was starting to feel almost sorry for the rank-and-file Death Eaters, caught as they must be between fear of the professor and fear of their master; but for the moment that master seemed to be taking matters into his own attenuated hands. Increasingly, the Dark Mark burned and stung the professor, against all his attempts to block it, and seemed to shine with a sort of anti-light - with darkness visible - so that he walked with his left arm clenched tight against his body, and was grateful for anything which might help take his mind off his discomfort.
Lynsey thought that he looked even more exhausted and ill than usual. The residual effects of the Cruciatus curse had left him racked by periodic bouts of shudders, and his breathing was increasingly short and fast. She watched him out of the corner of her eye but she didn't want to worry him by letting him know how worried she was: instead, she did her best to provide an amusing distraction. "There was this - well, you know who Aleister Crowley was, right?"
"I've heard the name, but I couldnít give you a context for it."
"He was a famous, and notoriously decadent, Muggle ritual magician - well, in my opinion, he was a posy wazzock who spent his entire life trying to shock his parents, but he did genuinely know a fair bit about magic, and he told this story, this joke, see, which he said - he said if you understood the joke, then you would know all there was to know about magic. My sort of magic, that is."
"Well, go on then - what was the joke?"
"It was - well, you must understand, because he was a posy wazzock the way Crowley himself told it was way, way more elaborate and long-winded than this. But the gist of it was this.
"There are two men, two strangers, travelling on a train together. And the one man says to the other 'Excuse me, my dear chap' - this is about in the Twenties, you understand, so they were very formal - 'Excuse me, my dear chap, but I couldn't help noticing that that box which you have with you has airholes. Are you by any chance transporting some sort of animal?' 'Why yes,' says the guy, 'as a matter of fact, this box contains a mongoose.'
"So the other guy says 'A mongoose? My dear chap, if you don't mind my asking, why are you carrying such an exotic creature? Are you perhaps taking it to a zoo?' 'Ah, no,' sez the guy with the box, 'it's really a very sad tale. You see, my poor brother has a drink problem, and it's gotten so bad that he has begun to see snakes everywhere, which keep him from sleeping. I am taking him this mongoose in order that he may be rid of them.'
"So the first guy says, 'Forgive me, my dear chap, but these snakes which your brother sees - aren't they imaginary snakes?' And the guy with the box says 'Ah, yes - but this, you see, is an imaginary mongoose.'"
"Oh! Oh, yes, that's rather clever - and I do get the point - about fighting fire with fire, and shaping the necessary tools for the job with your mind instead of your hands, and so on. About working with thought and making it somehow concrete. But also, it's given me an idea for possible future use."
"Penny for your thoughts?"
"Oh, this one would cost you a lot more than a penny, O'Connor."
"For men must work and women must weep"
- sang the professor's desolatingly sad and lovely voice, soaring in the darkness -
"And the sooner it's over, the sooner to sleep,
Though the harbour bar be moaning -
And goodbye to the bar and its moaning."
But his voice wasn't the only thing drifting through the air and darkness of the tunnels - nor was his increasingly constricted breathing the only breath on the wind. As the song died away into the soft sound of the professor's careful, shallow gasps Lynsey heard a much harsher, deeper breathing, almost a snuffling, coming from behind them in the dark, and the little rattle of stone on stone. She clutched at the professor's arm in sudden fright, and it was only as she felt him flinch that she realized she had inadvertently put pressure on the Dark Mark.
She let go, carefully, as the snuffling came again, and with it a wave of human/not-human stink - of sweat and blood. "What is it?" she breathed, as quietly as a mouse's shadow in the dark, as his hand wrapped itself round her own forearm in turn.
"Werewolf" he murmured back, equally quietly, but she felt his fingers dig painfully into her muscles as he said it. His poor nails! she thought distractedly, remembering that being hunted through tunnels underground by a werewolf was his own personal nightmare. Something in the darkness chuckled. Jerkily, the professor raised the wand and cast the wand-light, but there was nothing to be seen - only the snuffling and the blood-smell, beyond the edge of the light. "I know you're there, Greyback" he said steadily: "If you want blood, come out and try for it."
The thing chuckled again, and a rough-edged voice said "So bold, Snape? Then why is your hand trembling?"
"Excitement at seeing you again" the professor snapped. "I can't be bothered with this, Fenrir - come out and fight me, or run back to your master with your tail between your legs." He hurled some kind of hex - a ball of crackling cerise - in the direction of the voice but it spent itself uselessly and the chuckle came again, from another direction, and then another, and that snuffling, hungry sound that lay behind the chuckle was suddenly all around them.
"Where am I, Snape? Can you find me before I find you? The Dark Lord has his own plans for you, Snape, so I may not play with you too much - but he has promised me that I may eat the Muggle if I please."
"Oh for Heaven's sake - what am I, Little Red Riding Hood?" Lynsey muttered in slightly hysterical hilarity - but the professor did not look as if he thought Greyback was joking. She remembered, uneasily, that Lucius had said that the professor was not the only one who could throw his voice. The thing could be anywhere, and despite his irritable bravado the professor's own breathing was getting rougher and more desperate by the second.
The refusal to confront them was in some ways worse than an outright attack - it left them not knowing from which direction danger would come, afraid to move, afraid to turn their backs, fixed like flies in amber for the rest of the Death Eaters to find. The dark air was charged with movement and change, with towering force waiting to crash down on them, a thunderhead waiting to break - power under the ground, striking up through her feet; power in the professor, that felt like pine-forests growing as he turned his head back and forth, listening with his mind as well as his ears and sniffing the steady breeze like a dog himself, trying to find out Greyback's true direction; power of threat and blood and hunger in the darkness, and the Dark Lord over all....
Power in herself. Power waiting, and she knew where to find it, she did, and she began to chant aloud, harshly and abruptly, calling on the true name of the lady who teaches the art of war, of the son born too ugly to be looked upon - and she wondered vaguely why that should make the professor wince, but they were there waiting, those ones, they were always waiting, poised to come the instant they were called and the dark presence of these godly forces made the snake-master look like very small fry and the balance shifted - it shifted, and suddenly the darkness was on her side and the snuffling and the chuckling had only one direction. The professor had taken two steps towards it when there was a flurry of noise and stink and movement and a very tall, raw-boned, hairy man leaped like nightmare from the dark tunnel and lunged at him, bloody slobber running down his beard and naked chest and his razor teeth bared in a rictus of hate.
The professor stepped fluidly sideways out of Greyback's path. As attuned to him as she was, Lynsey could see how much his feet still hurt him but he was ignoring that, ignoring all other pains and forcing his battered body to move normally. Better than normally. As Fenrir Greyback skidded and then leaped at him, preferring teeth to wands, he flowed away again, moving like a dancer, like a fencer - like the true sword of the mind, as shining and as bright, the soul of balance and fire.
And in the end, it was quite simple. Fenrir Greyback relied on striking terror into the hearts of his opponents, but the professor knew how to ride roughshod over his own fear; he relied on speed and surprize, but the professor was faster, and very little surprized him. The werewolf tried for the eyes and got in one lucky blow which left the professor streaked with red claw-marks from his right cheek to his collarbone, but Greyback was not, when it came down to it, either very bright or very good with a wand, and the sight of him snarling and scrabbling and swearing and drooling on the floor, still trying to come after them even after the professor had deftly removed all the bones from his legs, was one which Lynsey knew she would treasure - especially after a heavy night on the booze. As the sense of towering, present power began to leech away they debated whether or not to attempt to kill him. It would be a public service, the professor thought, despite the moral complications of killing a prisoner, since the man was in the habit of deliberately preying on children even when in man form - but it would also be quite difficult and dangerous to achieve without getting bitten which, she understood, was a very serious matter when the biter was a werewolf.
In the end the professor went into a solitary huddle for ten minutes while he thought something through, muttering under his breath in counterpoint to Greyback's steady profanity and rubbing his fingers back and forth across his mouth in what Lynsey took to be an unconscious effort to displace his chronic anxiety. Finally, he turned back to face their captive, smiled an exhausted yet self-satisfied smile and gestured languidly with his wand.
The werewolf choked and clapped his filthy, long-nailed hand to his mouth. "Wha' - wha'shou dho?"
The professor smiled beatifically. "I took all your teeth away, Fenrir - and unlike your bones, they won't grow back."
"'I wish you were on yonder sea'
Said the False Knight upon the road
'A good boat under me'
Said the wee boy and still he stood
'The boat would surely sink'
Said the False Knight on the road
'And ye would surely drown'
Said the wee boy and still he stood.
"'Has your mother more like you?'
Said the False Knight upon the road
'There's nane of them like you'
Said the wee boy and still he stood
'I think I hear a bell'
Said the False Knight on the road
'It's ringing ye tae Hell'
Said the wee boy and still he stood."
"I love that song" Lynsey croaked hoarsely through dry lips. "If the Devil comes calling, stand up and cheek him - it's the only way!"
"Yes" he replied, rather grimly, "but I can't help remembering that when the Devil came for me, I bloody-well fell in and followed him. At least on the first road."
"It seems to me, maybe," she said diffidently, "that you went with what you were used to - from one abusive and controlling father-figure to another."
She thought he might be offended at that, but instead he gave a sharp bark of laughter. "And thence to Dumbledore - who may not be precisely abusive, but who could give the - Him - lessons on manipulation and control!"
As if the mention of his former master had been the key, he abruptly groaned and clutched at his left arm with the other hand, the wand falling to the floor unregarded and plunging them both into darkness again.
"Prof?" Lynsey said anxiously; "Prof, are you OK?" She knelt down and patted frantically across the floor with the palms of her hands until she had located the wand and pressed it back into his right hand, sliding it under the fingers which were still clamped around his left arm - but what the renewed light showed her was not encouraging.
"No I'm bloody-well not OK - what does it look like?" he gasped through set teeth. He slid down the wall until he was sitting, eyes shut and breathing shallowly. "It's no use" he said distinctly. "It's like a beacon. That doesn't matter so much down here, but if we ever find our way above ground he'll have a clear road and he can use it to find me, as well as to - punish me."
"What can we do?"
"You're going to have to cut it off me."
"Me? Why me?"
"Oh, think about it, why don't you? Would you trust yourself to perform surgery on yourself without anaesthetic - and keep a steady hand? I have no desire to slice through an artery. I can heal it as soon as you cut me - but I'm not about to mess about with a stone knife or Sectumsempra one-handed."
The idea made her sick to her stomach but she could see the logic of it - and cutting him was unlikely to hurt him much worse than the mark was already doing. Reluctantly, she squatted down next to him and helped him to undo the belt from around his waist and strap it tightly round his left arm above the elbow. When that was done, he held the wand above his marked arm, illuminating what was scorched there.
She got the knife out and turned it around in her hands, staring at the mark where it pulsed with unclean energy. "You're sure you can't - burn it off or something? Like a tattoo?"
"No. It's a brand but it's part of my skin now. Part of me: not just on the surface. You have to make a full-thickness cut." He was breathing fast and light, making a visible effort not to clutch at the mark again.
She wondered if he meant that the thing was somehow encoded in his DNA, at least at the somatic level. She touched the point of the stone knife to the soft skin of his inner forearm, nerving herself up for the next move. "Get on with it!" he said tightly, and she slid the sharp flint under his skin with one firm push.
Dark blood answered the blade, welling up everywhere it cut him. Steadying his arm with her left hand, she made a swift, shallow slice, the flat of the blade lying parallel to the muscle so as not to nick it, and parted the connective tissue which joined muscle to skin as easily as she would once have done in the laboratory. But flaying the skin off someone alive and conscious and wincing was a whole new experience.
Her professor had his mouth set in a grim line, evidently determined not to cry out: but as she started to lift the skin free the mark flared with dark energy, as if it knew what she was doing, and a thin, desperate sound of protest escaped through his clenched teeth. Another moment, and it was done: indeed, although it had felt like eternity, the whole process had probably taken only five or six seconds.
For a few more seconds she could see the unpleasant mauve of stripped muscle, as big as the palm of her hand, and that muscle looked wrong - scorched, distorted, as if the Dark Mark had bitten in and damaged him for all the years he had worn it. Then he had pointed the wand and was singing that same halting, lilting, almost wordless song, only slightly unsteadily, and the sallow-pale skin was closing over the wound as she watched.
He fumbled one-handed at the belt buckled around his arm, until she helped him to unfasten it, then they sat and stared at each other by wand-light. The gaping hole in his arm was now covered by what looked like shiny pink scar tissue, a few months old. His face was a ghastly, almost luminous shade of green, and Lynsey was sure that she herself looked no better. "Shit" she muttered, falling back against the wall; "Oh - shit."
"Thank you for - not prolonging matters by hesitating."
"Uhnh - let's hear it for Mediaeval battlefield surgery."
"The butcher's mercy: a sharp knife and a steady hand." He picked up the horrible trophy of his own skin and flattened it against the chalk wall until it stuck there. "I'm tempted to leave it there for them to find - it's not as if they don't already have plenty of my blood if they want to use it against me. But I suppose I'd better destroy it."
"I think so - or else supposing one of my people finds it? They'd think there'd been a murder done."
"There nearly was. Anyway - I don't suppose that many Muggles come down here, do they?"
"Oh, yes - I've been wondering how they've been managing to keep all the visitors out."
"Visitors? What bloody visitors?"
"Didn't I say? They have tours down here all the time, usually. I was on one years ago - that's how I recognized the ichthyosaur."
"You were on a tour down here?"
"Why - is it important?"
"Of course it's bloody important you stupid woman. The ways in and out of here are in your memory and you didn't bloody-well think to tell me?"
"Yes, but - it must have been about twenty years ago. I really don't remember very much about it, honestly - certainly not enough to find our way out by."
"Stupid!" he exclaimed, pressing the heels of his hands against his temples for a moment as if his head were splitting. "Don't you understand? If it's in your mind I can access it - we could have been out of here hours, maybe days ago if you'd had the sense you were bloody born with!"
"I don't know how much you can bloody-well do - you could have asked me if I'd been here before. You knew I knew quite a bit about it!"
"Oh - never mind whose fault it is - just open your bloody mind to me, all right?"
"Whatever you say." But at this precise moment she was very nearly as headachy and short-tempered as he was, and in her annoyance with him it was difficult to make her own mind stand still for long enough for him to get to grips with.
He glowered at her in exasperation. "Come on O'Connor."
"Donít talk to me as if I was one of your bloody students, OK?"
He shook his head irritably, but had the grace to look slightly abashed. "Sorry - force of habit."
"Well - try to break the habit, OK?"
"That should be easy enough," he muttered: "you're far brighter than most of the dross I have to work with."
"Oh, meee-ow! Talk about damning with faint praise. And I don't like the feeling that you're giving me marks out of ten - OK? I'm older than you, for the gods' sweet sakes."
"Then bloody act it!" They glared at each other, both breathing rather too hard, until he relented and gave her a crooked grin. "I must say it's refreshing to try to read someone who has to make a conscious effort to let me in, instead of some hormone-addled teenager with cotton-wool between the ears who can't even begin to imagine how to close his mind!"
"That's my lad - that's more like it!"
"Come on then" he said coaxingly, touching her forehead tentatively with his long fingers. "You know how to do it - you've let me into your memory before and neither of us came to any harm..." and she allowed her eyes to drift shut listening to his silky voice, and concentrated on unpicking the knots of her own headache enough to let him pass the hammering iron barricade of her skull.
Why did she feel so wary, so reluctant to let him in? It wasn't that she didn't trust him - she had trusted him absolutely since she first saw him, with the smooth irrational knowing she identified with divine inspiration. But something here seemed -
As she managed to jemmy open her own mental processes enough to let him in, she felt the darkness rise and crash down on him like a striking snake and he fell forwards against her with a wordless cry - oh, gods, the Unnameable One had been inside the professor's mind so often, so intimately that he had found a way to locate him even without the Mark and that rushing darkness was pouring into her own mind through the breach in her mental wall - the professor was collapsed against her chest, his chin digging into her shoulder and his narrow back jerking as if he was having a heart-attack but he gasped out "Trance! Now!"
As she flattened her senses by main force and fed them through that narrow slot which alone, out of all the levels of consciousness, gave access to a waking trance, she thanked all gods known and unknown that she had done this so many times, she knew that trance-state so well, that she could now reach it just by wanting to; without the need for any sort of prior meditation. As she felt that opening up of awareness, of being both self and not-self, the professor was with her, the darkness that was following him was with them both, still thinking of itself as a great snake striking, lunging, suffocating her companion in its coils but in the mind's eye he flared away from it in the astral body as nimbly as his physical body had side-stepped Greyback an hour earlier, and as he did so his perceived form flowed and dwindled and suddenly in his mind and in hers, in his astral self-image, he was a little dancing mongoose, all skinny legs and sharp nose and bottle-brush tail, spitting and skittering and full of pep and relish. As this buoyant-looking little beast bounced stiff-legged towards the Unnamed One's concept of himself as The Great Serpent, Lynsey felt like laughing aloud with delight, hearing the professor's mortal voice chanting the only possible words for the occasion:
"At the hole where he went in
Red-Eye called to Wrinkle-Skin.
Hear what little Red-Eye saith:
'Nag, come up and dance with death!'"
Outside, down here/there in the physical world, the words rolled off his smooth tongue with force and vividness. In her own mind she herself was the sharp-toothed, feather-crested raptor, poised to strike - but she was only the backup. Centre-stage belonged to the professor's wonderful whirling, spitting ball of scruffy fur: however fast the serpent struck, the mongoose skipped aside from it, and however large the snake grew the mongoose kept pace with it, maintaining a proportionate size which would make the serpent a difficult but manageable kill. The snake image was frankly terrifying - it didn't look like a real animal but like every debauched and horrible thing the Western imagination had ever associated with that word "serpent," oozing poison and slime and corruption and a vaguely phallic lasciviousness - but the mongoose danced at it, resolutely resembling a real beast, and the professor's mental insistence on realism was re-shaping and over-riding the Dark Lord's idea of himself, forcing the Great Serpent to diminish into an ordinary snake.
"Eye to eye and head to head,
(Keep the measure, Nag.)
This shall end when one is dead;
(At thy pleasure, Nag.)
Turn for turn and twist for twist-
(Run and hide thee, Nag.)
Hah! The hooded Death has missed!
(Woe betide thee, Nag!)"
As the professor's light, strong voice repeated the lines with such vigour and realistic emphasis, the force of his expectation compelled his former master to fall into line with Kipling's words, and the imagined, astral snake which was really a man who had once been called Tom Riddle danced on cue, lunged, missed and finally fled with the mongoose in spitting, furious pursuit. As the snake disappeared over some notional horizon Lynsey searched in her mind for the lingering psychic/magical link between the two, between her brilliant, nervy-brave professor and his some-time master and torturer. To her astral self it looked like a floppy cable made out of polythene, a sort of cyberpunk umbilicus, pulsing with luminous unclean liquid the colour of pus - but in her beast-form she slashed across it with one great hind-claw and the cable fell dark and silent in her mind's eye.
"Is that - what it's like all the time, your sort of magic?"
"Aye, 'tis passing strange."
"We went past 'strange' a long time ago" he said in a remote voice, still half in trance. But everything was remote. Although she had gone into this infinitely fitter and more rested than the professor had been, over the past couple of days - or however long it had been - Lynsey had had a lot less sleep than he had, even allowing for the nightmares which tormented his rest. The unexpected, unprepared foray into astral had left her so dizzy that the world seemed to slide and tilt away from her, and he did - his face was drifting out of focus....
She was lying tucked up against the wall, quite carefully composed with her head resting on the lumpy bulk of her bag, gazing sideways at her professor as he sat hunched over his hands with his back half turned towards her. He was holding light in his hands: light which was shining out between his fingers and outlining the long bones against that enfolded brightness. "We are here held cupped in the cold white heart of England" murmured his soft-smooth voice, hypnotic and flowing; "I have given my blood to the stone blade that the stones may drink it; the land will hear our hearts within the heart of the chalk; the land will hold us safely; it will permit us to go out again...." As his steady voice flowed on Lynsey drifted in and out of consciousness, feeling the power shimmering like refracted light around the edges of his words.
She woke up to the sight of his narrow face peering at her intently, his hand gently shaking her shoulder. "Uhnh - how long was I out for?"
"Only about half an hour" he said, looking rather apologetic. "I'd have left you for longer, but the sooner we get out of here...."
"Oh, gods - I mean, thanks, but you shouldn't have let me sleep at all - half an hour could be life or death to us." She tried to lick her dry lips, but there was no water that wasn't a trap anywhere to be had; her head was pounding with dehydration even worse than before, and she thought that her companion with his sweating feverishness must feel ten times worse.
"Do you think I don't realize that?" he snapped, as irritable as she expected him to be. "But I needed to compose myself and catch my breath before I could attempt to use Legilimens again, on such old and buried memories. Also, there's a strict limit on how long I could keep you awake with Rennervate, and if you pass out in the middle of making a run for it we're both dead."
"Uhnh - you could always leave me. If that happened."
"Is that what you think of me?" he said sharply.
"No pet. No. It was a silly thing to say."
"Getting you out of here alive O'Connor is most of the bloody point - if it was just me, I'd as soon put an end to myself and have done with it."
"I'm sorry, pet - I didn't mean to offend you."
"In any case, if half your theories are true then calling the soul of the land to aid us may be as important as physically finding an entrance, and I thought it was worth half an hour to - experiment."
"I saw. You were - impressive. You've got real talent, Prof - you know this?"
He pushed his heavy hair back from his face with one hand. "Actually, yes." He gazed at her, his expression troubled. "It was - odd. On the one hand it did feel, as you had said, almost as if I was talking to a person - on another, as if - as if the ocean rose up through me. Or there were - fields, hillsides, in my mind, I was in them and they were living me... I can hardly begin to express it. Is that what it's supposed to feel like?"
"That's the bunny."
He nodded wearily, too tired and too dry-mouthed for much conversation, and then gritted his teeth as another convulsive spasm shook him, until Lynsey had to seize him by the shoulders to keep him from overbalancing. He had assured her these shaking fits were no more than the residual effect of Cruciatus, but if anything this bout seemed worse than the last. When his teeth had stopped chattering he ducked his head to her without comment, a brief acknowledgement, and put up his left hand to touch the side of her face. "Come, now, and let me see what you saw, twenty years ago."
In truth, her memory was no miracle cure - twenty years ago, bumbling after the tour-guide in a travelling bubble of lamplight adrift on the dark, she had not known that one day her life might depend on noticing every turning, every distance and direction. But they had already gained some idea of the basic geography of this place just from blundering about in it, and there was enough extra there, enough that could be mined [sic] from her mind, to supplement the guidance of the wind, and at least allow the professor to make a more informed guess as to which breeze to follow.
She remembered a conversation, a lifetime ago it seemed now, about Rupert of the Rhine and the white poodle called Boy that the professor swore really was the warrior-prince's familiar spirit. What they were looking for, now, was the secret road used by Royalist refugees, after Prince Rupert and his kingly uncle had lost their war - a vertical shaft which still connected an obscure corner of the caves to woodland above their heads even though that woodland, she thought, was now possibly part of a golf-course.
But the snake-man, it seemed, had thought of everything. As they padded round a corner, intent on following the enticing, overwhelming scent of grass and wet earth that blew to them on the subterranean breeze, a slender, white-haired figure stepped out into their road and stood in plain sight, barring the way.
For one awful moment she thought it was Lucius again, somehow restored to full health - but this was a younger version, his astonishing hair cropped fairly short; his sharp face already marked by waspish ill-temper but without the gloating greed which had marred Lucius's beauty even before the professor had got at him. She had not seen this boy without his mask before (belatedly, she realized that all their hunters except the gate-guards had been unmasked - proof that the snake-master did not intend her to leave here alive), but she knew he must be that one Death Eater who had flinched miserably at the sound of her professor's raw, tearing screams.
"Draco" the professor said evenly, with the tiniest hint of a nod, as smooth and cool as if that horrible scene at the revel had never been enacted.
The white-haired youth, so like and yet so unlike Lucius, stared at the professor with silver-grey eyes and a sort of stunned, deer-in-the-headlights look, and almost without moving his lips whispered "You cut - my father."
"Why - ?"
"You saw why."
"How, how could - " Lynsey assumed he was going to say "How could you?", but the blond boy shook his head violently and surprized her by whispering "How could he?"
"Your father - likes to hurt. Perhaps not you or Narcissa, provided you obey him in all things and live up to what he thinks he's entitled to expect from you, but anybody else who falls within his sphere of influence is fair game. Even you.... Don't cross him openly, Draco, unless you have a bolt-hole already prepared."
"I'm not - like him. I don't - want to hurt you."
"I don't want to hurt you either, and in fact, I won't - but I will knock you down and bind you if you don't get out of my way."
"Go, then. I'm not - I'm not going to tell anyone I saw you."
"No! No major lies or He'll sniff them out of your head. Let us go past, give us a few minutes' grace and then call your reinforcements and tell them you only glimpsed us disappearing round a corner, and didn't have a chance to fire on us. Then think with all your will about how you called the hounds down on us, and not about the head-start. Or - come with us."
"No. My father is still - my father."
"I expected that" he said, and sighed heavily. "It's arguable whether it would be more dangerous for you to remain with the - Him at this point or to flee Him, in any case.... If He finds out that you and I were in collusion - "
The white-haired boy looked at Lynsey then, shadows falling across his strange grey eyes, so like and so unlike his father's. "He lied for me, you know" he said in a brittle, remote voice. "He told the Dark Lord that he had not known that I was meant to kill Dumbledore myself, and that he was certain I would have done so if he had not interfered. He took nine rounds of Crucio rather than let any of the blame and the punishment fall on me."
The professor made a dismissive noise. "It was much safer for me to have Him think I didn't know I was flouting His orders - and I was oath-bound to protect you anyway."
"Oh. Yes, I see. It wasn't really about me after all. How foolish of me to think otherwise."
"Don't be daft. I don't want you seeing me as some sort of martyr - but I wouldn't like you to think I protected you only because of the Vow, either. I wouldn't have made an Unbreakable Vow to protect you if I hadn't thought you were worth protecting. And if the war goes our way, I'll do whatever is in my power to see that you survive it."
The boy gave him a thin smile. "You, too. Godfather."
"It reminds me of something that happened during the Forty-Five. The Jacobite Rising?" she said, seeing his blank look. "Bonny Prince Charlie?"
"Most of Clan Campbell were Protestants, and on the government side - but there were also some Catholic Campbells who were with the Jacobites. One day a unit of government Campbells and a unit of rebel Campbells met head-on on the road, and their commanders went into a huddle and agreed - 'In order,' they said. 'to prevent unnecessary shedding of Campbell blood' - to pass by on opposite sides of the road, look the other way and pretend they hadn't seen each other."
He smiled briefly at that and then gestured to her to be quiet, listening for possible pursuit. They could hear nothing - and yet surely Draco's "few minutes" were well up by now?
"Damn" the professor said softly; "Oh - damn" and he slammed the side of his fist against the chalk wall, heedless of the pain of his splinted fingers. "The bloody fool - he hasn't set them on us. Oh God." He turned to stare at Lynsey, his eyes looking more sunken and wounded than she had ever seen them. "I'm going to have to go back, you know" he said in a mad, brittle, conversational voice. "I'll get you to the entrance, and then I'll hand myself over to Him in exchange for Draco."
"Ah, gods, love, you can't - you know what they'll do to you!"
"Do you think I don't realize?" he said hoarsely, shivering with palpable dread. "My death will take months - if I'm lucky! But better me than Draco. I just wish - just wish I could have had a proper drink, first. I'm going to be thirsty for so long...." His eyes were bright with fever, and as dazed as if he were already trapped in his own private hell.
"You can't do it! I'll kill you where you stand, rather than let you go back to - that."
"I'm dead anyway, if I fail to protect him - my Vow will see to that. At least let my death have meaning, and save somebody else! He hasn't yet sunk as far into the mire as I did - he's still worth saving."
"You're worth saving, you fucking idiot" she snarled at him, and then shook her head jerkily. "No, I - I'm sorry. It's your decision to make. But how can handing yourself over save him? Surely it will just let the Dark One know that you really were in cahoots with him, and put him in more danger than he is already, if he's a reasonably skilled liar. Is he?"
The corners of his mouth twitched reluctantly at that. "He's a credit to Slytherin, in that regard - a double faced, double tongued young snake. But I was going to offer myself in exchange for him, and make sure he was released with a good head start before I - presented myself to his bloody father on a platter."
"Would - would Lucius be more - lenient, because you saved his son?"
"What do you think?"
"But how far do you think the boy would get, without you free to guide him? I don't know where we're supposed to be bloody well going when we get out of here, and I'll bet he doesn't. And he doesn't even want to leave - you heard him. If his father whistles for him he'll double back and your sacrifice will be wasted. Honestly, pet - you're better trusting to his dishonesty, and then trying to get him to join you once you're in a position to be that bolt-hole for him. That's the best protection you can give him."
He stared at her from his great distance, and then nodded once. "Oh God, I hate this" he muttered, restless and distraught. "Nobody should have to risk themselves for me."
"Why not, when you take such great risks for them?"
There was no help for it but to follow the breeze which they would have been so happy to follow ten minutes beforehand: and five minutes after that Lynsey watched the professor standing under the mouth of the vertical shaft with his head tipped back, with his eyes closed and his mouth open and his long hair slicked wetly against his skin - almost dissolving into the rain that came pouring from a black sky.
"For men must work and women must weep" - from the poem Three Fishers by Charles Kingsley, as set to music by the filk group Awenydd on their album Potluck.
"Oh tell me where are you going" - Scottish traditional folk-song, The False Knight on the Road.
Apologies if the description of how you get into trance is obscure but there really are no words for this stuff in the English language.
"At the hole where he went in" - opening verse from Rudyard Kipling's short story Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.
"Double faced, double tongued young snake" is actually a quote from The Garland of Filigree by Nicholas Stuart Gray.
It's really true about ominous gods who come when you call them by name. And no, I'm not going to tell you what those names are. You wouldn't like them.
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